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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Graham Barton Wants to Fit with the Bucs as a Person, Not Just a Player

Former Duke center Graham Barton, the Bucs' first-round pick in this year's draft, valued relationships above all else during his collegiate career and he wants to be part of building a winning culture with his new team

Graham Barton, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, hasn't been issued a playbook yet, so he doesn't yet know the specifics of how he will fit into the team's offensive schemes. Of course, the Buccaneers wouldn't have selected him 26th overall after months of game tape study if they had any doubts on that issue. For Barton, it's a secondary issue anyway; he already knows he and the Buccaneers are a good fit for a totally different reason.

"I think more for me – kind of how they alluded to it – it's about fitting the person and finding the right people to mesh together," said Barton during his introductory press conference at Buccaneers headquarter son Friday. "You can teach scheme, you can teach install and you can coach players, but you can't necessarily change their make-up as a person and who they are. I think that's step one. I met a few guys today and I'm just excited to grow those relationships and allow the coaches to coach me and allow them to fit me into the scheme where they see I can best help and go from there."

Barton's words were surely music to the ears of General Manager Jason Licht, who was sitting next to him at the press conference table. When discussing his growth as a draft-runner and the Bucs' increasing success with their picks through his tenure, Licht emphasized the work he and his crew have done to get better about evaluating a prospect as a whole person, beyond what's on the game tape.

"I think we've done a great job – I've done a better job, myself, as well – of going after the right kind of guy and avoiding the temptation to go after the talent and not necessarily the whole person," said Licht at his pre-draft media session two weeks ago. "I think we've done a great job – my staff has done a great job of identifying that with our character grade. We put a lot of stock into that. When you see players getting in trouble, suspended, whatever, I'll look it up and, yep, we had a 'do not touch' grade on them. It's been phenomenal in that regard."

The importance of relationships and team-building to Barton is evident in his collegiate experience. A three-star recruit in Tennessee, Barton received scholarship offers from a variety of high-powered football programs, including Mississippi State and Michigan State. He chose Duke primarily because of the connection he felt with former Head Coach David Cutcliffe. As he developed into a top-flight player for the Blue Devils, earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2022, he had opportunities to enter the transfer portal, and a move likely would have included some monetary NIL benefits.

"First and foremost, I think I've always told myself I don't play football to make money – that's just a byproduct of working really hard," said Barton. "I play football because I love football. I want to continue to chase that success. Duke was the best situation for me. I loved my head coach, I loved my position coach, I loved my strength coach, I loved my teammates.

"My best friends are my teammates in that locker room coming from Duke, so there was no reason for me to leave and there was no amount of money that would've drawn me away. That will come if you stay true to who you are and your process. That really wasn't a concern for me. I knew I was in the right situation for me as a football player. Obviously, there was some interest, but I really chose not to entertain it."

View pictures of Duke center Graham Barton, who Tampa Bay selected in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Licht has worked hard to instill a certain culture at the AdventHealth Training Center, and the results have shown on the field. The Buccaneers have made four straight playoff appearances, won a Super Bowl in 2020 and have snagged three consecutive division titles for the first time in franchise history. Their moves this offseason – particularly re-signing Mike Evans, Lavonte David and Baker Mayfield – have suggested they expect to compete for the playoffs again in 2024, but also that they want to keep around the people who are instrumental in establishing that culture.

Barton – who Licht likened in various ways to such culture-setting Bucs linemen as Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs – would like to become one of those people.

"Obviously, I haven't played a snap in this league yet, so I have a lot of work to do to even be half as good as those guys, but I'm just excited for the opportunity," he said. "I appreciate their belief in me as a player and as a person. [I am] excited, like I said, to just get to work with these guys and prove them right and prove that they made the right decision and win some football games and be a part of this culture."

The idea of Barton being a good culture fit for the Buccaneers and potentially becoming a team leader down the road, seems particularly important at the offensive line position, given the responsibility that Licht puts on that group to be the Bucs' driving force.

"He's the epitome of what we look for in this culture that we're building here – that Todd [Bowles] wants and we want here – to lead our draft class [and] not only lead our draft class, but to lead our team," he said. "We're all depending on that O-Line room, so the addition of him to that O-Line room is going to help us out tremendously."

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